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Jonah 4:1-4

Context
Jonah Responds to God’s Kindness

4:1 This displeased Jonah terribly 1  and he became very angry. 2  4:2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought 3  would happen 4  when I was in my own country. 5  This is what I tried to prevent 6  by attempting to escape to Tarshish! 7  – because I knew 8  that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger 9  and abounding 10  in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment. 11  4:3 So now, Lord, kill me instead, 12  because I would rather die than live!” 13  4:4 The Lord said, “Are you really so very 14  angry?” 15 

1 tn Heb “It was evil to Jonah, a great evil.” The cognate accusative construction רוַיֵּרע...רָעָהַ (vayyera’…raah) emphasizes the great magnitude of his displeasure (e.g., Neh 2:10 for the identical construction; see IBHS 167 §10.2.1g). The verb רָעַע (raa’) means “to be displeasing” (BDB 949 s.v. רָעַע 1; e.g., Gen 21:11, 12; 48:17; Num 11:16; 22:34; Josh 24:15; 1 Sam 8:6; 2 Sam 11:25; Neh 2:10; 13:8; Prov 24:18; Jer 40:4). The use of the verb רָעַע (“to be evil, bad”) and the noun רָעָה (“evil, bad, calamity”) here in 4:1 creates a wordplay with the use of רָעָה in 3:8-10. When God saw that the Ninevites repented from their moral evil (רָעָה), he relented from the calamity (רָעָה) that he had threatened – and this development greatly displeased (רָעָה) Jonah.

2 tn Heb “it burned to him.” The verb חָרָה (kharah, “to burn”) functions figuratively here (hypocatastasis) referring to anger (BDB 354 s.v. חָרָה). It is related to the noun חֲרוֹן (kharon, “heat/burning”) in the phrase “the heat of his anger” in 3:9. The repetition of the root highlights the contrast in attitudes between Jonah and God: God’s burning anger “cooled off” when the Ninevites repented, but Jonah’s anger was “kindled” when God did not destroy Nineveh.

3 tn Heb “my saying?” The first common singular suffix on דְבָרִי (dÿvari, “my saying”) functions as a subjective genitive: “I said.” The verb אָמַר (’amar, “to say”) here refers to the inner speech and thoughts of Jonah (see HALOT 66 s.v. אמר 4; BDB 56 s.v. אָמַר 2; e.g., Gen 17:17; Ruth 4:4; 1 Sam 20:26; Esth 6:6; Jonah 2:4). There is no hint anywhere else in the book that Jonah had argued with God when he was originally commissioned. While most English versions render it “I said” or “my saying,” a few take it as inner speech: “This is what I feared” (NEB), “It is just as I feared” (REB), “I knew from the very beginning” (CEV).

4 tn The phrase “would happen” does not appear in the Hebrew text but is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity and smoothness.

5 tn Heb “Is this not my saying while I was in my own country?” The rhetorical question implies a positive answer (“Yes, this was the very thing that Jonah had anticipated would happen all along!”) so it is rendered as an emphatic declaration in the translation.

6 tn Or “This is why I originally fled to Tarshish.” The verb קָדַם (qadam) in the Piel stem has a broad range of meanings and here could mean: (1) “to go before, be in front of” (1 Sam 20:25; Ps 68:26); (2) “to do [something] beforehand,” (Ps 119:147); or (3) “to anticipate, to do [something] early, forestall [something]” (Ps 119:148). The lexicons nuance Jonah 4:2 as “to do [something] for the first time” (HALOT 1069 s.v. קדם 4) or “to do [something] beforehand” (BDB 870 s.v. קָדַם 3). The phrase קִדַּמְתִּי לִבְרֹחַ (qiddamti livroakh, “I did the first time to flee”) is an idiom that probably means “I originally fled” or “I fled the first time.” The infinitive construct לִבְרֹחַ (“to flee”) functions as an object complement. This phrase is translated variously by English versions, depending on the category of meaning chosen for קָדַם: (1) “to do [something] for the first time, beforehand”: “That is why I fled beforehand” (JPS, NJPS), “I fled before” (KJV), “I fled previously” (NKJV), “I fled at the beginning” (NRSV), “I first tried to flee” (NJB), “I fled at first” (NAB); (2) “to do [something] early, to hasten to do [something]”: “That is why I was so quick to flee” (NIV), “I hastened to flee” (ASV), “I made haste to flee” (RSV), “I did my best to run away” (TEV); and (3) “to anticipate, forestall [something]”: “it was to forestall this that I tried to escape to Tarshish” (REB), “to forestall it I tried to escape to Tarshish” (NEB), “in order to forestall this I fled” (NASB). The ancient versions also handle it variously: (1) “to do [something] early, to hasten to do [something]”: “Therefore I made haste to flee” (LXX), “That is why I hastened to run away” (Tg. Jonah 4:2); and (2) “to go before, to be in front”: “Therefore I went before to flee to Tarshish” (Vulgate). The two most likely options are (1) “to do [something] the first time” = “This is why I originally fled to Tarshish” and (2) “to anticipate, forestall [something]” = “This is what I tried to forestall [= prevent] by fleeing to Tarshish.”

7 tn See note on the phrase “to Tarshish” in 1:3.

sn The narrator skillfully withheld Jonah’s motivations from the reader up to this point for rhetorical effect – to build suspense and to create a shocking, surprising effect. Now, for the first time, the narrator reveals why Jonah fled from the commission of God in 1:3 – he had not wanted to give God the opportunity to relent from judging Nineveh! Jonah knew that if he preached in Nineveh, the people might repent and as a result, God might more than likely relent from sending judgment. Hoping to seal their fate, Jonah had originally refused to preach so that the Ninevites would not have an opportunity to repent. Apparently Jonah hoped that God would have therefore judged them without advance warning. Or perhaps he was afraid he would betray his nationalistic self-interests by functioning as the instrument through which the Lord would spare Israel’s main enemy. Jonah probably wanted God to destroy Nineveh for three reasons: (1) as a loyal nationalist, he despised non-Israelites (cf. 1:9); (2) he believed that idolaters had forfeited any opportunity to be shown mercy (cf. 2:9-10); and (3) the prophets Amos and Hosea had recently announced that God would sovereignly use the Assyrians to judge unrepentant Israel (Hos 9:3; 11:5) and take them into exile (Amos 5:27). If God destroyed Nineveh, the Assyrians would not be able to destroy Israel. The better solution would have been for Jonah to work for the repentance of Nineveh and Israel.

8 tn Or “know.” What Jonah knew then he still knows about the Lord’s character, which is being demonstrated in his dealings with both Nineveh and Jonah. The Hebrew suffixed tense accommodates both times here.

9 tn Heb “long of nostrils.” Because the nose often expresses anger through flared nostrils it became the source of this idiom meaning “slow to anger” (e.g., Exod 34:6; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Pss 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Jer 15:15; Nah 1:3; BDB 74 s.v. אָרֵךְ).

10 tn Heb “great” (so KJV); ASV, NASB “abundant”; NAB “rich in clemency.”

11 tn Heb “calamity.” The noun רָעָה (raah, “calamity, disaster”) functions as a metonymy of result – the cause being the threatened judgment (e.g., Exod 32:12, 14; 2 Sam 24:16; Jer 18:8; 26:13, 19; 42:10; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). The classic statement of God’s willingness to relent from judgment when a sinful people repent is Jer 18:1-11.

sn Jonah is precisely correct in his listing of the Lord’s attributes. See Exod 34:6-7; Num 14:18-19; 2 Chr 30:9; Neh 9:17, 31-32; Pss 86:3-8, 15; 103:2-13; 116:5 (note the parallels to Jonah 2 in Ps 116:1-4); 145:8; Neh 9:17; Joel 2:13.

12 tn Heb “take my life from me.”

13 tn Heb “better my death than my life.”

14 tn Heb “Rightly does it burn to you?” Note this question occurs again in v. 9, there concerning the withered plant. “Does it so thoroughly burn to you?” or “Does it rightly burn to you?” or “Does it burn so thoroughly to you?” The Hiphil of יָטַב (yatav, “to do good”) here may have one of two meanings: (1) It may mean “to do [something] rightly” in terms of ethical right and wrong (BDB 406 s.v. יָטַב 5.b; HALOT 408 s.v. יטב 3.c; e.g., Gen 4:7; Lev 5:4; Pss 36:4; 119:68; Isa 1:17; Jer 4:22; 13:23). This approach is adopted by many English versions: “Do you have any right to be angry?” (NIV); “Are you right to be angry?” (REB, NJB); “Is it right for you to be angry?” (NRSV, NLT); “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (NASB); “Do you do well to be angry?” (cf. KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV); “What right do you have to be angry?” (cf. TEV, CEV). (2) It may be used as an adverb meaning “well, utterly, thoroughly” (BDB 405 s.v. 3; HALOT 408 s.v. 5; e.g., Deut 9:21; 13:15; 17:4; 19:18; 27:8; 1 Sam 16:17; 2 Kgs 11:18; Prov 15:2; Isa 23:16; Jer 1:12; Ezek 33:32; Mic 7:3). This view is adopted by other English versions: “Are you that deeply grieved?” (JPS, NJPS); “Are you so angry?” (NEB). This is also the approach of the Tg. Jonah 4:4: “Are you that greatly angered?” Whether or not Jonah had the right to be angry about the death of the plant is a trivial issue. Instead the dialogue focuses on the depth of Jonah’s anger: he would rather be dead than alive (vv. 3, 8) and he concludes by saying that he was as angry as he could possibly be (v. 9; see note on עַד־מָוֶת [’ad-mavet, “to death”] in v. 9). the Lord then uses an a fortiori argument (from lesser to greater): Jonah was very upset that the plant had died (v. 10), likewise God was very concerned about averting the destruction of Nineveh (v. 11).

sn The use of the term יָטַב (yatab, “rightly, good”) creates a wordplay with its antonym רָעָה (raah, “evil, wrong”) which is used in 4:1 of Jonah’s bad attitude.

15 tn Heb “Does it burn to you?” The verb חָרָה (kharah, “to burn”) functions figuratively here (hypocatastasis) to refer to strong anger (BDB 354 s.v. חָרָה). The verb is repeated from v. 1 and will be used again in v. 9.



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